Long Beach has so far distributed more than 44,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the majority of them have gone to older, White residents on the city’s east side, where rates of the virus are the lowest.

One of the reasons for the inequity is that fact that people over 65 have been prioritized because they are more likely to fall ill and die from the virus, even though they contract COVID at lower rates. And in Long Beach, residents on the east side tend to be White and older.

Frontline health workers, police and firefighters were in the first eligible groups, followed by those over 65. Newly eligible groups are teachers and food workers.

Demographic information on vaccination rates, presented Tuesday during a City Council meeting, mirrors what’s happening elsewhere in the country.

Health officials are struggling to reach communities of color and densely populated areas where the virus has been most rampant.

Although vaccination programs are in the initial stages—cities and counties everywhere have struggled to get vaccine supplies—early data show that those who live in areas where cases are the highest are not getting the vaccine.

Nationwide, 17 states that are releasing data by race and ethnicity show similar disparities. The share of vaccinations among Black people is smaller than their share of cases in 16 of the states, and smaller than their share of deaths in 15 states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is tracking the data.

California is not yet reporting data by racial and ethnic groups, nor is Los Angeles County. State and county health officials said they hope to release that information next week.

“We remain concerned that we will see, as we have seen with distribution of other health resources, a difference in race and geography,” Barbara Ferrer, director of the county Department of Public Health, said Wednesday at a media briefing.

Ferrer said the areas of prioritization have been adults over 65, as this group accounts for roughly 60% of all deaths from COVID-19. Protecting people with a high risk of contracting the virus, such as food workers, is also a priority.

“We are trying to protect the most vulnerable with the goal of reducing mortality,” she said. “It means understanding who is most likely to die.”

Long Beach ZIP codes 

In Long Beach, rates of COVID are starkly divided between east and west. The case rate for the Wrigley-area ZIP code 90806, for example, is 137 per 1,000 residents; in the Belmont Shore ZIP code of 90803, the rate is less than half that, at 53 per 1,000 residents.

Yet, Belmont Shore has one of the highest vaccination rates at 48 per 1,000 people, while the Wrigley vaccination rate is 29.7 per 1,000 people.

North Long Beach, meanwhile, has the highest disparity in cases-to-vaccinations, with 131 people per 1,000 contracting the virus, versus 47.1 people receiving the vaccine.


Racial groups

The same disparity can be seen when the numbers are broken down by race.

White people have a much higher vaccination rate compared to people of color, receiving nearly half of all first doses at more than 14,000.

White people have the lowest case rate at 33 cases per 1,000, but account for the highest vaccination rate at 114 per 1,000 people.

In contrast, Hispanic or Latinos account for the highest case rate at 85.5 per 1,000 residents, but have the lowest vaccination rate of 32.5 per 1,000. Overall, Latinos account for the largest racial group in the city at more than 40% of the population.

Long Beach Health Department Director Kelly Colopy on Tuesday said the racial and neighborhood inequities in vaccine rollout are reflective of the population, noting that about 55% of residents age 65 and over are White and live in the eastern part of the city. Long Beach’s residents of color tend to be a younger population and live in more denser areas of the city.

Nonetheless, she said the city data shows concerning disparities in vaccine distribution and that the city is working on a number of efforts to focus on equity.

“We know we have work to do,” she said.

Colopy said disparities are complicated by layers of race, poverty and access. Many people in the inner city may not have access to transportation to vaccine sites or internet access to sign up for vaccine notifications. Many of the city’s Latino residents are immigrants who may be mistrustful of the vaccine or government involvement.

The city in the coming weeks will work on outreach with five local nonprofit groups to target high-risk communities using census tract data that shows neighborhoods with the highest rate of COVID cases, she said.

The effort will include mobile vaccination clinics in neighborhoods and information campaigns in Spanish, Khmer and Tagalog.

Other numbers released Tuesday:

  • Of the 44,000 doses that have been administered to Long Beach residents and workers, more than 36,000 are first-time doses while 7,000 are second doses.
  • More than 15,000 of those doses went to people over 65, the largest age group. The second largest group to receive the vaccine was people ages 18 to 34, which account for more than 6,300, which Colopy said was mostly lifeguards and other younger people who have worked at the testing and vaccine sites.
  • People 65 and older account for the largest portion of age groups getting the vaccine with a rate of 233.5 per 1,000 people, but they have one of the lowest COVID case rates, at 78.7 per 1,000 people. The group with the highest case rate is people ages 18 to 34 who have a case rate of 138.6 per 1,000 but a vaccination rate of just 37.8.

Melissa Evans is the executive editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-437-5814.